The National Association of Broadcasters this week has raised “serious concerns” regarding FCC commissioner nominee Gigi Sohn’s ties to Locast, a recently shuttered broadcast television streaming service.
NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith didn’t go so far as to oppose the nomination of Sohn but did flag her involvement as one of three directors of Locast, which earlier this year found itself on the losing end of a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.
"NAB is confident that these concerns can be resolved. However, the ethics agreement that Ms. Sohn submitted to the Senate currently does not adequately address the inherent conflict presented by her recent leadership position at Locast and her potential role as an FCC commissioner,” said Smith in a statement. “NAB is actively working with members of the Senate Commerce Committee and the White House to address this conflict and requests that Ms. Sohn submit an amended ethics agreement that meaningfully and effectively addresses this clear and troubling conflict.”
Locast was a non-profit service that relied on a statute within the Copyright Act to retransmit local broadcast signals. The service did not charge monthly fees but did ask its users to contribute $5 per month – after which they’d stop seeing donation requests every 15 minutes while they were using the service.
Locast had grown its reach to 35 U.S. markets and had accumulated 2.8 million registered users. However, as the service expanded, it faced a legal challenge from major U.S. broadcasters, who argued that Locast was operating with its own commercial benefit in mind and that its retransmission of broadcast signals could not be considering strictly local since they were being delivered via the internet.
Locast argued that it should still be exempt from copyright liability since it only offered secondary transmissions, it didn’t qualify as a cable system and it was run by Sports Fans Coalition NY, a non-profit.
But after a district court dismissed Locast’s argument against the copyright infringement claims, the service pulled the plug in September.
“As a non-profit, Locast was designed from the very beginning to operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law, but in response to the court’s recent rulings, with which we respectfully disagree, we are hereby suspending operations, effective immediately,” the company wrote in an email to registered users.